Monday, February 02, 2009

Second best might still be good, just not best 

I was going to comment on the thread accompanying Janet's post about road emergencies but decided it was worth its own post. (I get to do that: it's my blog.)

Conservative opposition to the extra-constitutional creep of government into everyday lives does not mean that government can never work well in our view. It might. What we do not know is how well roadside assistance like that Janet received would be provided by the private sector. We do have AAA and other roadside assistance programs. One could choose to save money and have no assistance; in a private-road world AAA or other roadside assistance programs may offer an expanded range of services. We currently organize society to have public provision of roads and of emergency services, and we currently choose to have public financing through taxation for those services. That they served Janet well that day last week does not make them the most efficient. We do not know, nor does anyone commenting on Janet's post know, how those services would have been provided if 911 and MnDOT did not exist. Maybe it would work well, and maybe it would not. The point is that just because MnDOT in some case does its job well does not mean some other organizational structure might not provide it better and cheaper.

We already have many states contracting out for toll roads. Often these toll road contracts include contracting for maintenance services. For a road that had upgraded roadside assistance even better than MnDOT's perhaps people would be willing to pay a higher fee.

UPDATE (10 pm): �During�24�commercials I read two emails to this post. �From Janet:

In both instances, I used AAA for towing. The first instance, when I was waiting for AAA, MNDOT stopped to check. Nice that they did but not necessary. In the 2nd instance, I was concerned my car would just coast to a stop in a lane with lots of speeding traffic because that section of road has no shoulders. There would be no way for me to get out of my car safely nor would there be any warning for oncoming cars other than my flashers � hence my call to 911. I thought maybe I could get a cop car to get behind me so I wouldn�t be rear-ended and hurt along with people in the car that could not avoid hitting me. Luckily, I found the only 40� of grass and got off the road. At that point, 911 turned me over to a towing company.

My point was that there are times that it�s nice to have government help but that�s not to say a private operation could or could not do better. Personally, I�d prefer most of it private because of accountability. However, there are times when one needs police and my 2nd instance was one where police could have been appropriate.

Overall, just because 2 agencies did their jobs, does not make one a supporter of all government services...
The second from Prof. John Spry of Univ. of St. Thomas:
I am attaching a link to a paper of mine about services on toll roads. ...

The paper was inspired by my 89 Dodge Aries breaking down on the New York Throughway, and calling AAA. AAA was banned from helping stranded AAA members on that road, so that politically connected repair shops could have a monopoly on towing on �their turf� of a stretch of toll road. So I sat in 5 degree weather for 3 hours after calling AAA waiting for the non-AAA government appointed monopoly to arrive.
It does seem that there are functions that can be best served by police such as Janet's second breakdown. (Hopefully her last, too, as Janet will be getting new wheels shortly.) But John's story is instructive -- when you allow government to decide who can serve these functions, rent-seeking too often ensues with taxpayers left without the efficient level of service.

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